In this unforgettable year of 2020, August 11 will stick out. On Tuesday, the Big 10 and the PAC-12 college athletic conferences canceled all fall sports, including football; Kamala Harris became the first Black woman to be named a U.S. Vice Presidential candidate on a major ticket; the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets in five overtimes.
And let's not forget about professional tennis, which boasted a schedule that would make Wimbledon's Manic Monday blush. Thirty-three Grand Slam singles titles were represented on Center Court at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky, and the only match that didn't include a Grand Slam champion featured an almost sure-fire future major titlist.
And the marquee matches will continue, given victories by Serena and Venus Williams, who will face each other in the second round. But it wasn't just veterans who prevailed. Sixteen-year-old Coco Gauff will face Aryna Sabalenka after her triumph, and 17-year-old Leylah Fernandez capped the memorable day with a victory over Sloane Stephens:
There were no fans in attendance in Lexington, given the pandemic. But after months of exhibitions and a small—but significant—return tournament last week in Palermo, today still felt monumental. Would it have been augmented with applause? Of course. But it was the players' performances that defined the day, more than anything. We'll need to get used to that, if we haven't already.
Venus Williams d. Victoria Azarenka, 6-3, 6-2
5:29 p.m. ET—A new Lexington tradition? Venus joins Serena in thanking her 'God given' biceps, before kissing her flexed right arm.
5:23 p.m. ET—After saying hi to her family and thanking healthcare workers, "never being so grateful to play", Venus assessed afterwards, "That was a crazy first round. This is almost like the first match of the season. It's like, OK, I'm playing a Grand Slam champion, a former world No. 1 for both of us. So it is stressful to come out and play your best under these circumstances. I was happy to have some cushions and leads there."
5:13 p.m. ET—It's set! Venus will meet sister Serena in the second round after an impressive outing where she converted all three of her break points. Serena leads their head-to-head series, 18-12, and won their last encounter at the 2018 US Open.
5:08 p.m. ET—Venus will serve for the match with a 5-2 advantage.
4:59 p.m. ET—An exchange of holds brings us to 4-1. Eight points away from a Venus-Serena showdown.
4:49 p.m. ET— A DOUBLE BREAK for Venus, 3-0. The American ripped a pair of forehand return winners to set up the opportunity, and seized it.
4:39 p.m. ET—An unforced error sees Azarenka drop serve to begin the second set.
4:32 p.m. ET—First set goes to Venus, 6-3. A huge gust of wind blew through, before Venus saved the first break point against her serve. It was followed by taking the best two rallies of the set to close.
4:25 p.m. ET—She was pushed to deuce, but Venus consolidates. Azarenka holds to force the opposition to serve it out.
4:16 p.m. ET—Venus breaks at love for 4-2, with Azarenka tossing in the first double of the match to lose serve.
4:09 p.m. ET—Both competitors are hitting their targets on serve thus far. A good sign for Venus, who's worked on changing her motion during the hiatus. 1-2 combos like this will go a long way in this matchup.
4:02 p.m. ET—Each player opens with relatively routine holds to kick off this clash.
3:49 p.m. ET—Both confirm rules with chair umpire Zhang Juan. Vika wants confirmation on warm-up time (4 minutes) and Venus checks that there's no electronic line calling.
3:45 p.m. ET—The two have taken the court. The former world No. 1s are meeting for the first time since 2019 Auckland, where Venus prevailed to move ahead 5-2 in their head-to-head series.
Coco Gauff d. Caroline Dolehide, 7-5, 7-5
3:40 p.m. ET—On grading her day's work, at least in singles, Gauff says, "I would give it an A. It was my first match back since January. I honestly did better than I thought I would." Coco will return in a bit for her doubles opener with tour bestie Caty McNally.
3:32 p.m. ET—Coco moves on! Both sets were streaky—Coco originally led the first set 5-2 before closing it out, 7-5, then she battled back from 5-3 down to win the second set by the same score, 7-5. But after an hour and 42 minutes, the youngest player in the draw is through to the second round of the Top Seed Open.
3:27 p.m. ET—Coco holds for 6-5. She closes the game out with her eighth ace of the match.
3:24 p.m. ET—Coco breaks back for 5-all second set. The 16-year-old breaks the 21-year-old Dolehide at 15 while she's trying to serve for the set.
3:19 p.m. ET—Dolehide is about to serve for the set. After another pair of holds, Dolehide leads 5-4 and will serve for the second set.
3:11 p.m. ET—The two Americans are holding strong on serve. Since Dolehide broke in the first game of the second set it's been six straight holds. She leads, 4-3.
2:55 p.m. ET—Dolehide nearly goes up a double break in the second set. After breaking and holding to go up 2-0, Dolehide brings up a break point in the next game—but Coco fends it off and holds, and Dolehide is up one break at 2-1 now.
2:40 p.m. ET—Coco rips a backhand winner down the line to take the opening set, 7-5. After letting a 5-2 lead (with set point) become 5-all, she regroups to take the first set in 51 minutes, finishing it off in style.
2:35 p.m. ET—Coco holds on for 6-5. Dolehide held serve and nearly made it four games in a row, bringing up two break points with Coco serving at 5-all—but the rising star fought them both off, one with a drop shot and the other with an ace.
2:20 p.m. ET—We're back on serve. After saving a set point serving at 2-5, 30-40 with a big first serve and a swinging forehand volley winner, Dolehide held and then finally broke Coco. It's now 5-4.
2:10 p.m. ET—Coco holds for 5-2. She's lost just three points in four service games so far.
2:03 p.m. ET—Dolehide's on the board, but Coco's looking strong. Dolehide held to make it 3-1, but another easy service game for Coco puts the 16-year-old up 4-1.
1:56 p.m. ET—Coco's up 3-0. She broke Dolehide at 15 in the second game, then held at 15 in the third game, hitting back-to-back aces along the way.
1:50 p.m. ET—Coco holds at love to open the match. Four big first serves and she didn't even have to hit another ball.
1:43 p.m. ET—Up next: Americans Gauff and Dolehide will battle for the right to face second seed Aryna Sabalenka in the second round.
SERENA WILLIAMS d. BERNARDA PERA, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1
1:33 p.m. ET—Game, set, match: Serena closes quickly to complete the comeback.
1:30 p.m. ET—From 40-0 down, Serena reels off five points to break for 5-1. Deep hitting and a backhand return winner got her to deuce, and from there, Pera crumbled.
1:24 p.m. ET—The answer is yes. Serena needed to erase two break points to reach 4-1, but has her biggest lead of the day.
1:18 p.m. ET—In that last changeover, Serena went into her zone, got out of her chair and was focused. She breaks to take a 3-1 advantage. Will she able to consolidate for the first time today?
Pera has won just two of her eight second serve points in this set so far.
1:10 p.m. ET—A double fault provided Serena an early break point, but the current world No. 9 missed it with a backhand she'd love to have back again.
1:04 p.m. ET—Can't ask for a much better start to the set. Serena with a quick hold to begin this decider.
12:59 p.m. ET—Serena returns the favor by winning the second set, 6-4. A defensive scramble at 15-15 was the difference maker. Feeling the pressure, Pera's forehand went away at the wrong time.
12:54 p.m. ET—FOUR BREAK POINTS saved by Serena, including three from 0-40, and she can now level this match with a break after the changeover. Shots like this under pressure have kept her in this contest.
12:47 p.m. ET—The world No. 60 is getting closer and continues to take the ball early. It's 4-4 now.
12:37 p.m. ET—Pera evens things up at 3-3. The 25-year-old is seeking her first Top 10 victory since the 2018 Australian Open (d. No. 10 Konta)
12:33 p.m. ET—Serena is unable to consolidate and we're back on serve. Pera to step to the line at 2-3.
12:29 p.m. ET—After missing her first five break point opportunities, including one saved by this Pera volley, Serena breaks for 3-1 and lets out her loudest "Come on!" of the match. Two calls were corrected by the chair in that game, resulting in the replaying of points.
12:18 p.m. ET—A second-serve kicker had enough on it to save break point, and Serena leads 2-1 in this set. Pera is not giving her opponent much in the mistakes department.
12:09 p.m. ET—Down 0-40, Serena fires herself up to win five straight points. Gotta think the "come ons" will only build from here.
12:02 p.m. ET—Pera takes the opening set, 6-4, finishing with two authoritative forehand winners. Very good hitting throughout.
11:55 a.m. ET—Another overcooked groundstroke prevented Serena from breaking back. She'll now instead serve to stay in the set.
11:46 a.m. ET—"All good", asks Pera after Serena stumbled and fell. The top seed said "yeah" and got back to business, though Pera would hold after saving two break points in that game.
11:35 a.m. ET—Passing cars, cement mixing, sparsely filled stands. This Center Court setting is certainly a contrast the ones Serena is used to playing on. Three mistimed forehands later, and Pera breaks at love to move ahead 3-2. The left-hander has appeared to be the more relaxed of the two, and it's showing in the pair's exchanges thus far. Olympia was spotted giving mom encouragement during that game.
11:26 a.m. ET—Strong closes to games like this have been missed.
11:19 a.m. ET—After falling behind 15-30, Serena quickly recovers with well-struck serves to hold in the opening game.
11:15 a.m. ET—There's something surreal about chair umpire Cecila Alberti announcing the players to the left and right of the chair, with no fans in attendance.
11:10 a.m. ET—"I'll serve and I'll do yellow", says Serena after electing to serve and choosing marked balls that color-coordinate with her outfit. Daughter Olympia and husband Alexis are in the stands, with plenty of space to work with. Serena is 63-13 lifetime against left-handers in tour-level main draws.
11:00 a.m. ET—It’s only Day 2 in Lexington but today’s Center Court lineup has the feeling of the backend of a big tournament.
Serena Williams kicks off the day’s action at the Top Seed Open against Bernarda Pera, playing her first match since the U.S. team’s Fed Cup Finals qualifier in Everett, Wa. Should the 23-time major champion advance, she will await the winner of the third match on Center Court between sister Venus Williams and fellow former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.
Coco Gauff will follow Serena and Pera when she takes on countrywoman Caroline Dolehide, who came through qualifying. In a year that was meant to be Gauff’s first full season on tour, the 16-year-old starts back up again with a ranking of No. 53 and shot to face world No. 11 Aryna Sabalenka in the second round.
Closing out Center Court action will be 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, who will look to avenge her final pre-pandemic shutdown loss to Canadian upstart Leylah Fernandez. The 17-year-old left-hander took out Stephens in Monterrey on March 4, before losing to eventual champion Elina Svitolina.
Before action kicked off, it was revealed Amanda Anisimova withdrew from her match with CiCi Bellis due to a right shoulder injury, and was replaced by lucky loser Francesca di Lorenzo.